The UAE’s Hope probe is expected to reach Mars tomorrow, just hours before China’s orbiter-rover combo and a week ahead of Nasa’s probe.
It will observe the Martian atmosphere from an equatorial orbit with an imager and two spectrometers. Scientists hope to understand the extreme climate changes observed on Mars, unusual Martian weather events, and why its atmosphere appears to be seeping into space.
Understanding atmospheres of other planets, will allow researchers to better understand Earth, and better understand other planets in the universe.
Entering Mars’ orbit is expected to be tricky and depends on one critical upcoming moment dubbed Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI).
Achieving MOI is a complex manoeuvre: the spacecraft is rotated to position it for a deceleration burn of 27 minutes, and slowed down from its cruising speed of 121,000km/h to something nearer to 18,000km/h. The burn will start just after lunchtime tomorrow and will require the probe to be highly autonomous due to the 22-minute radio delay between it and the Earth.
As well as scientific discovery, UAE hopes that the mission will enhance its knowledge economy as part of its preparations to pivot away from its current oil-based economy.
When the spacecraft arrives, it will make the UAE only the fifth country in history to reach Mars.
Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri, minister of state for advanced technologies, chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency, said she hopes the mission will be in a position to share data by September.
She told the PA news agency: “One of our primary objectives is to ensure that we share the data as soon as we are comfortable, as a science team, that the data is usable by scientists and the data is correct.
“So we’ve put about three months of time to ensure that our processing is correct, that the instrument is behaving appropriately, that the output that we’re getting is actually from Mars observations and not Mars observations with something on the instrument or something in the processing.
“We hope to release the data at the latest in the beginning of September, and it will be data from the capture orbit that has been captured around Mars, and also from the beginning of our science phase.”
China’s Tianwen-1 mission, which will arrive later this week, comprises a robotic spacecraft, which consists of an orbiter, deployable camera, lander and a rover.
The rover will remain paired with the orbiter circling Mars until May, when it will separate to descend to the surface. If all goes well, China will be only the second country to land successfully on the red planet.
Nasa’s Perseverance, which is the last of the three craft to reach Mars this week, will descend to the surface immediately in a touchdown similar to the Curiosity rover’s landing in 2012.
The one-ton Perseverance is larger and more elaborate than the Tianwen-1 rover. Both will conduct searches for signs of ancient microscopic life.